The 3 classic books on Direct Marketing are: “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy, “Tested Advertising Methods” by John Caples and, the daddy of them all, “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins.
As Drayton Bird once wrote:
“Claude Hopkins was perhaps the most able copywriter ever – so good that allegedly by 1917 his boss used to give him a blank cheque every year and let him set his own salary.
From his book Scientific Advertising (1926) I learned many things, but principally that copy is “just salesmanship”. Your copy should do what a good salesman would do.”
This article is about what I learned from “Scientific Advertising”. Or, more accurately, it’s a collection of the best advice from the book.
I hope you find it useful:
The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales.
It is not for general effect. It is not to keep your name before the people. It is not primarily to aid your other salesmen.
Treat it like a salesman. Force it to justify itself. Compare it to other salesman. Figure its cost and result. Accept no excuses which good salesmen do not make. Then you will not go far wrong.
Some argue for slogans, some like clever conceits. Would you use them in personal salesmanship? Can you imagine a customer whom such things would impress? If not, don’t rely on them for selling in print.
Some say “Be very brief. People will read for little.” Would you say that to a salesman? With a prospect standing before him, would you confine him to any certain number of words? That would be an unthinkable handicap.
So in advertising. The only readers we get are people whom our subject interests. No one reads ads for amusement, long or short. Consider them as prospects standing before you, seeking for information. Give them enough to get action.
Measure them by salesmen’s standards, not by amusement standards. Ads are not written to entertain. When they do, those entertainment seekers are little likely to be the people whom you want.
That is one of the greatest advertising faults. Ad writers abandon their parts. They forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause.
A man was selling a $5 article. The replies from his ad cost him 85 cents. Another man submitted an ad which he thought better. The replies cost him $14.20 each. Another man submitted an ad which for two years brought replies at an average of 41 cents each.
Consider the difference, on 250,000 replies per year. Think how valuable was the man who cut the cost in two. Think what it would have meant to continue that $14.20 ad without any key on returns.
Yet there are thousands of advertisers who do just that. They spend large sums on a guess. And they are doing what that man did – paying for sales from 2 to 35 times what they need cost.
The purpose of headline is to pick out people you can interest. You wish to talk to someone in a crowd. So the first thing you say is, “Hey there, Bill Jones” to get the right persons attention.
So in an advertisement. What you have will interest certain people only, and for certain reasons. You care only for those people. Then create a headline which will hail those people only.
Perhaps a blind headline or some clever conceit will attract many times as many. But they may consist of mostly impossible subjects for what you have to offer. And the people you are after may never realize that the ad refers to something they may want.
The identical ad run with various headlines differs tremendously in its returns. It is not uncommon for a change in headlines to multiply returns from five or ten times over.
So we compare headlines until we know what sort of appeal pays best.
Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. They leave no impression whatever. To say, “Best in the world,” “Lowest price in existence,” etc. are at best simply claiming the expected. But superlatives of that sort are usually damaging. They suggest looseness of expression, a tendency to exaggerate, a careless truth. They lead readers to discount all the statements that you make.
People recognize a certain license in selling talk as they do poetry. A man may say, “Supreme in quality” without seeming a liar, though one may know that the other brands are equally as good. One expects a salesman to put his best foot forward and excuses some exaggeration born of enthusiasm. But just for that reason general statements count for little. And a man inclined to superlatives must expect that his every statement will be taken with some caution.
But a man who makes a specific claim is either telling the truth or a lie. People do not expect an advertiser to lie. They know that he can’t lie in the best mediums. The growing respect in advertising has largely come through a growing regard for its truth.
So a definite statement is usually accepted.
The maker may say that he has no distinctions. He is making a good product, but much like others. He deserves a good share of the trade, but he has nothing exclusive to offer. However, there is nearly always something impressive which others have not told. We must discover it. We must have a seeming advantage. People don’t quit habits without reason.
(the next quote is heavily edited from a long passage)
Almost any questions can be answered, cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. And that’s the way to answer them – not by arguments around a table. Go to the court of last resort – the buyers of your product…
…In the old days, advertisers ventured on their own opinions. The few guess right, the many wrong. Those were the times of advertising disaster…
…Now we let the thousands decide what the millions will do. We make a small venture, and watch cost and result. When we learn what a thousand customers cost, we know almost exactly what a million will cost. When we learn what they buy, we know what a million will buy.
We establish averages on a small scale, and those averages always hold. We know our cost, we know our sale, we know our profit and loss. We know how soon our cost comes back. Before we spread out, we prove our undertaking absolutely safe. So there are today no advertising disasters piloted by men who know.
Now he presents it in a few average towns, at a very moderate cost…from the few thousand he learns what the millions will do. Then he acts accordingly. If he then branches he knows to a certainty just what his results will be.
He is playing on the safe side of a hundred to one shot. If the article is successful, it may make him millions. If he is mistaken about it, the loss is a trifle.
We see countless ads running year after year which we know to be unprofitable. Men spending five dollars to do what one dollar might do. Men getting back 30 percent of their cost when they might get 150 percent. And the facts could be easily proved.
We see wasted space, frivolity, clever conceits, entertainment. Costly pages filled with palaver which, if employed by a salesman, would reflect on his sanity. But those ads are always unkeyed. The money is spent blindly, merely to satisfy some advertising whim.